Human Waste Concerns Reported On Assateague OSV Area

ASSATEAGUE – As usage of the over-sand vehicle (OSV) zone increases, one area resident says she is concerned with the growing level of human waste being found on the beaches of Assateague Island.

Salisbury resident Beth McClincy says she and her husband have been going to Assateague’s OSV zone for years. She noted the beauty of the barrier island is one of the main reasons her family decided to move from Pennsylvania to the Eastern Shore.

“The existence of Assateague is why I’m even here,” she said in an interview this week. “It’s one of the most beautiful spots.”

In the last year, however, McClincy said she has witnessed a growing amount of human waste – excrement, toilet paper, and feminine hygiene products, for example – in the dunes at the OSV trail.

“Usually once or twice a week I go for a walk behind the dunes and pick up trash, and probably in the last eight months I’ve noticed an increase in human waste …,” she said. “People are just using the dunes as a toilet.”

But the problems don’t stop there, she said. In the last two weeks, McClincy noted she has witnessed several individuals defecating and urinating on the beach in broad daylight.

“In this past year, the OSV zone has become more of a social party spot,” she asserted. “And there’s a lot of people who don’t come prepared.”

In the summer season of 2020, Assateague Island National Seashore saw an 81% increase in OSV zone use compared to average use of the last five years. That trend, the park reported, has continued this year.

“We’ve really noticed in the last couple of years, maybe because of COVID, the interest in Assataegue has exploded …,” she said. “Obviously when you have a lot more people, a lot more problems show up.”

McClincy said she wanted visitors to be aware of restroom facilities located within the park – two in the backcountry camping areas and one at the entrance to the OSV zone. While she has reported the problem to park rangers, she said people should also do their part to keep the beaches clean.

“Respect the park,” she said. “We don’t have a right to this park, the National Park Service allows us to use it. If we are careless, they will shut it down.”

When reached for comment this week, Liz Davis, chief of interpretation and education at Assateague Island National Seashore, acknowledged park staff had received a visitor comment form this week regarding the issue of human waste in the OSV zone.

“OSV visitors often use the portable toilets located at Little Levels and Stateline backcountry sites and many carry their own portable toilets,” she said. “In non-developed areas of the park, visitors should adhere to the Leave No Trace Principle 3: Dispose of Waste Properly.”

Davis noted federal law prohibits the disposal of human body waste in developed areas – except at designated locations or in fixtures provided for that purpose – and the disposal of human body waste in non-developed areas within 100 feet of water. She added visitors who witness people urinating or defecating should report the violation by calling the park dispatch number, 757-898-0058.

“This number is staffed 24 hours a day and a dispatcher will contact a Law Enforcement Ranger,” she said.

It should be noted National Park Service staff collects water samples weekly at six beach locations on Assateague Island to monitor enterococci bacteria levels, an indicator for fecal contamination in marine waters. While fecal bacteria are present in marine waters at very low levels, Davis noted elevated bacterial concentrations can cause illness.

“Health problems caused from fecal contamination may include gastroenteritis, skin rashes, diarrhea, viral infections and hepatitis,” she said. “… Assateague’s Beach Water Quality monitoring program is in place to help protect the visiting public from possible health risks.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.